At long last, the wait is over! Ever since season two’s enthralling finale, “Twilight of the Apprentice”, we’ve been wondering what’s going to happen with our favourite characters. We were fed a steady diet of trailers and clips in the months and weeks leading up to this past weekend’s premiere, yet as tantalizing as they were, there’s nothing like the gratification of diving in to the real thing! From newbies like Bendu and Thrawn to old classics like Maul and Wedge, season three of Rebels is going to take us to a lot of new places!

Steps Into Shadow kicks off with a bang. A dark, disconcerting bang, that is. If you watched any of the trailers, you know that Ezra is due for some dark side leanings in season three. We don’t waste any time in getting acquainted with the “new” Ezra. He’s grown since we last seen him. Now somewhere between man and boy, and sporting a close-crop hair cut, Ezra has earned respect and responsibility within the Rebellion. He’s also accrued some serious Force powers in the ensuing time gap, and puts them to questionable use. If Sabine’s look of shock doesn’t spell it out, Ezra’s confession that nobody taught him that “trick” tells us that he’s been up to no good with that Sith holocron that he picked up on Malachor. The episode also answers the question as to whether or not Kanan knew that Ezra was marinating in its evil juices.

It’s clear that there’s a divide between Ezra and Kanan; not unlike a estranged father and son who aren’t on speaking terms. While Ezra has been out and about abusing his power for his, and presumably the Rebellion’s gain, Kanan has been kicking around on his own, trying to come to grips with being blind and not as effective as he once was.

This episode really was all about Kanan and Ezra’s new realities. Sure the rest of the crew were in it, but this episode sets the tone for the strained relationship between master and padawan. It’s clear that these two will continue to rub each other the wrong way over the course of the season. For as much as they care for one another, the appear to be on diverging paths.

This episode also introduced two new characters who are poised to make their mark on the Star Wars galaxy; Bendu and Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Kanan hears the call of the massive Force-wielding being known as the Bendu; the middle point of the Force. He’s not good, and he’s not evil. But he is useful. He doesn’t waste time in helping Kanan to shed his negative, self-limiting doubts. In one brief conversation, Kanan’s shackles are removed and it will be interesting to see if Kanan returns over the course of the season to seek more advice from this being, who doesn’t necessarily endorse what the Jedi preach. Would the Bendu be as helpful to a Sith? As the Star Wars galaxy at large is poised to explore the gray area of the Force, pay attention to Rebels and the Bendu. He’s surely going to have impart many important insights on us.

For his part, Grand Admiral Thrawn is ripped right from the pages of the EU. He’s just as I imagined him to be. With more incredible voice work by Lars Mikkelsen (brother of Rogue One’s Mads Mikkelsen), Thrawn is going to be the new Palpatine in that we need a puppet master that won’t render the Emperor (and Vader for that matter) as ineffective tools who can’t catch an ill-equipped Rebel cell.

A military genius, Thrawn tells us that the Rebels will “be the architects of their own demise”, and that he’s going to tear them apart piece by piece. And you know what? I believe him. Ultimately we know he won’t be successful as the Rebellion goes on to overthrow the Empire, but it doesn’t mean that Thrawn won’t make his presence felt in a big way. Always 10 steps ahead, Thrawn deconstruction of the Rebels is going to be painful for us fans to watch, but will ultimately make for what I think will be the best season of Rebels yet.

And we’d be remiss not to give a melancholy goodbye to the Phantom. The mini-shuttle met it’s demise due to Ezra’s on-the-fly planning, and I never thought I’d feel so bad for it as it exploded in to a million pieces.

Steps into Shadow is a tremendous start to season three. What it lacked in big action sequences, it made up for with strong story telling and set-up. It was a refreshing change to what we’ve come to expect from television series across the board; big premiere’s and finales to draw in eyeballs. Steps into Shadow didn’t shy away from action, but it made it clear that this season may unfold at a different pace. And I’m all in for that!

Tune in next week for Holocrons of Fate!

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